Octavia Spencer: ‘diversity is all shapes and sizes and socioeconomic levels’

Octavia Spencer has a new interview with Deadline ahead of the Oscars. I’m so excited that the Oscars are coming up and am working on seeing all the best picture nominees. I’ve already seen Hidden Figures, it was one of my favorites so far, but we know it’s not going to win and that Moonlight or La La Land will get the top prize. Spencer isn’t going to win her second Oscar either, but at least she’s nominated and she’ll get more chances hopefully. Also, out of all the best picture nominees, Hidden Figures is top at the box office. We voted with our wallets and Spencer knows how powerful that is. In her talk with Deadline, she discusses how we can help encourage diversity on film – by boycotting movies that are all-white for instance – and how a more diverse Oscars slate this year is not specifically a reaction #OscarsSoWhite. I feel bad that people are even being posed this question, it presumes so much. This interview is incredible and I’m only excerpting part of it, so please read it at the source for more from Octavia:

My first thought, on hearing about this movie, was that these stories were too essential to have never been heard before. Did you have a similar reaction?
I totally thought it was a work of fiction. When history obscured these women’s contributions, they were completely occluded from everything. You could go to NASA and find mentions in the archives, but Google it—which is what I did when I heard about it—and you didn’t find anything. I thought it was like The Help—historical fiction.

And then I was a little angry when I realized it was true. I felt compelled to be a part of it, because it was an idea whose time had come to be told. It was disbelief, and then a great sense of pride afterwards.

So now you contrast that with the urgent conversation we’re having in the arts today. This year has offered an eclectic mix of movies that some have argued addressed #OscarsSoWhite.
I think that’s what you guys are thinking, but when you know how movies are made, the explosion of films with people of color is not a reaction to #OscarsSoWhite.

I know, and I don’t mean to say that. But when I see a movie like Hidden Figures, I hope that it’s a sign that these kinds of stories won’t be ignored anymore.
I know that I have projects coming up, and I know that Viola [Davis] and Taraji [P. Henson] have projects coming up. I know Idris Elba is headlining a few things, and I hope Mahershala Ali and André Holland and David Oyelowo have things coming up. And also, you know, I’m taking a more active role in producing, and so is Viola. I can’t see this year being an isolated thing, but then, I thought Hillary was going to be president, so I can’t tell you for sure.

The tide has changed, but we still have a ways to go, because they still aren’t inclined to greenlight a movie that’s starring a person of color, without a long list of white box-office people. Are we where we should be? No. We have some ground still to cover, but I’m optimistic because of the year we’re having…

And when people say “diversity in Hollywood” they assume “black,” but diversity is all shapes and sizes, varying ages, varying backgrounds and socioeconomic levels, varying degrees of education, impoverished and elite. We see a lot of the elite, but very little of the impoverished that isn’t stereotypical. Moonlight is one of the few stories that cover what it’s like for the black, gay experience. Lion, that’s diverse, that’s out there now. There’s so many different perspectives and interesting stories out there. There are many, many meanings of diversity to me. I want to see more Latin stories told. More Asian stories.

I mean, when I look at the people that are underrepresented in the film industry, I’ve got to tell you, if I look down a list of characters on a film, and it doesn’t have gay, African-American or Latin characters, I’m probably not going to spend my money on the ticket. I’m going to be real honest with you. I see enough of the homogeneity, and I don’t need to support it with my dollar. And when we stop supporting things with our dollars that don’t represent all of us, then you’ll see an explosion of diversity. Art is about reaching people that you wouldn’t normally reach. It’s about bringing us together.

[From Deadline]

I really like what she said about what diversity means, and how it involves focusing on everyone, not just the elite. There’s a longer quote from Octavia I didn’t excerpt above which gave me goosebumps. I wanted to talk about it separately because it resonated with me. She said, of the women who were central to Hidden Figures:

They didn’t consider themselves second-class citizens; they knew what and who they were, so in spite of all of that, they were able to take our men to space and back. That is what keeps me grounded at this hour, given what’s going on in our country. If you aren’t inspired by that, there’s something wrong with you. They knew what they were capable of, they knew what their country was capable of, and they were at the forefront of something amazing. I don’t know if they really understood what their impact would be, but they were a part of something greater than themselves, and that is what’s inspiring.

This is why we Persist. This is why we listen to people’s stories and this is why the arts matter. I really hope La La Land does not win Best Picture, but this is marathon not a sprint. Now that Octavia is producing films, now that we’ve seen the success of Hidden Figures, we’ll hopefully see more broad-reaching changes in the entertainment industry to come.




Photos credit: FameFlynet and WENN

photos credit: WENN and FameFlynet

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16 Responses to “Octavia Spencer: ‘diversity is all shapes and sizes and socioeconomic levels’”

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  1. nem says:

    sadly people don’t listen.
    hidden figures cast is so beautiful.

  2. Aiobhan Targaryen says:

    I think it depends on who is being asked the questions and their answers than the question itself. Asking white directors, writers, producers, studios heads why they keep making films with entirely white casts (when nothing about the story says that the characters need to be white) and to keep pushing for real answers is the way to go. For example, there is nothing about Manchester by the Sea that screams “everyone NEEDS to be white”. You can switch Casey Affleck for an American of Asian or First Nation descent, have Michelle’s character be either of the same ethnic background or African American or Afro-Latino and the story would have been the same thing.

    Constantly asking the marginalized why they are marginalized does not lead to a productive conversation because it is just ends up being one person talking to themselves. White people (as a whole) have to put in more effort than they are putting in now which seems to be something that a lot of white people refuse to acknowledge or even want to accept.

  3. LadyT says:

    I very much look forward to seeing more of Octavia Spencer. She has that magical likeability factor. She’s a great actress, interviews extremely well and I’m interested to see what she’ll chose to produce.

  4. INeedANap says:

    I had the good fortune to meet Katherine Johnson several years ago. In her 80s she was sharp as a tack and funny to boot. Her intelligence eclipsed mine so soundly I was left in awe. One of the great experiences of my life.

  5. Giddy says:

    I finally saw Hidden Figures last night and it was so powerful. I’m sure that La la Land will win, as it’s a beautiful bit of fluff. But I wish so much that Hidden Figures would win. It educates and informs, but is not dry or pedantic…as opposed to dancing across a dreamscape.

  6. Lightpurple says:

    Honking for Octavia because I want more Octavia.

  7. QQ says:

    COME ON THROUGH EXCELLENCE!! Speak On it!! * clapping at my desk and church stomping* This is the 16th of the Black History Month and ‘Tavia is making my chest warm! ( as is Continual better coverage of Black Excellent People)

  8. TyrantDestroyed says:

    Hidden figures was my favourite movie from this Oscar season. I really hope it manages to surprise us and win

  9. BostonLawyaGal says:

    I need that navy floral jacket! I covet her wardrobe. Any ideas who it could be?

  10. Tata says:

    I mean, she is brilliant but I would like to hear from white actors on ways they are working to make Hollywood more diverse, not just from people who already know and get it and have been striving their whole career to make it happen like Octavia.

    Kind of like – “are you a feminist” lets ask –

    How would you make Hollywood more diverse? Go.

    • Mei says:

      It needs to be more specific than that, otherwise they’ll ignore race and just talk about how films with more (white) women in ticks the diversity box, job done! Which for sure is important BUT it needs to be more women in leading roles, more actors of every gender (lgbtq+) and more actors of every colour without discrimination in all roles, unless it is a historical film. But saying that, the onus first and foremost is for more producers (a la Octavia) and studios that are willing to push for the green light on more diverse stories from all walks of life.

  11. Saks says:

    “And when people say “diversity in Hollywood” they assume “black,” but… There are many, many meanings of diversity to me. I want to see more Latin stories told. More Asian stories.”

    THANK YOU OCTAVIA! This is what some of us have been saying about this “diverse” year. It is an improvement indeed, but it is no way true diversity.